It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.
20th Century Pictures
Constance Cummings, Paul Kelly, Russ Columbo, Blossom Seeley, Texas Guinan, Gregory Ratoff, Hobart Cavanaugh, Helen Jerome Eddy, Lucille Ball (uncredited), Charles Lane (uncredited), Ann Sheridan (uncredited), Esther Muir (uncredited), Dennis O’Keefe (uncredited), Walter Winchell (uncredited voice)
Themselves: Eddie Foy Jr., Frances Williams, Dewey Barto and George Mann comedy team
A childhood friend of gangster Frank Rocci (Kelly) asks if he can help her sister Joan Whalen (Cummings) get a job. Frank does and when he meets Joan after years apart, he is smitten with Joan and puts the pressure on club owner Max Mefoofski (Ratoff) to make Joan the star of the club’s show. The only problem is that Joan falls in love with bandleader Clark Brian (Columbo).
-Written by famed columnist Walter Winchell. The story was said to be similar to a love-triangle between dancer Ruby Keeler, her husband singer Al Jolson and New York Gangster, Johnny “Irish” Costello. Winchell denied that the story was based on the three individuals, according to Unsung Hollywood Musicals of the Golden Era: 50 Overlooked Films and Their Stars, 1929-1939 by Edwin M. Bradley.
-The movie begins with a hand taking a key out of the door and the camera zooms in to look through a keyhole. Following this are sights and sounds of Broadway.
-Texas Guinan’s character in the film
-“Doin’ the Uptown Lowdown” performed by Frances Williams
-“When You Were a Girl on a Scooter and I the Boy on the Bike” performed by Constance Cummings and Eddie Foy, Jr.
-“You Are My Past, Present and Future” performed by Russ Columbo
-“I Love You Pizzicato” performed by Russ Columbo and Constance Cummings
“Broadway Thru a Keyhole” was a wonderful romp. It has a great comedic supporting cast, biting Pre-Code jokes and is a fun plot all over.
The plot is nothing out of the ordinary: gangster helps young girl succeed in her career, falls in love with her, she falls in love with someone else, and the gangster doesn’t want to let her go. But though this isn’t an unusual plot line, this one little film is special because it is more joke than crime.
Maybe it’s a little different because it was written by gossip columnist Walter Winchell. There are some wonderful pre-code lines such as: “I knew a hypochondriac once and was he GOOD.”
But even better than the pre-code jokes is famed speakeasy owner and performer Texas Guinan’s role in the film. Her character is similar to her real-life character and it’s a treat to see her on the screen. Sadly, Guinan died four days after this film premiered.
The musical has fairly catchy songs. Leading lady Constance Cummings isn’t a stellar singer. However, I’m not sure if this is on purpose. I was curious if Cummings was cast to show that often young women were on looks and their boyfriend’s power rather than on their talent. Or I could be thinking too much into it and Cummings was cast to use this as a vehicle. Russ Columbo brings the singing talent in his smooth, crooner tone — though he isn’t a great actor. Knowing Columbo is dead a year after this film, however, makes his performance a little sad to watch.
Many of the numbers have a Busby Berkeley feel to them, though he wasn’t involved in the film. For example, one number has girls singing faces in musical notes and there are several over-head dancing shots.
“Broadway Through a Keyhole” is a musical you don’t often hear about, but if you love pre-code and 1930s musicals, be sure to add this film to your list.